Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)



  Q1 Chairman: I would like to welcome everyone to the Committee. This is our first briefing with you, Secretary of State, and it is a general evidence taking session in which I hope we will be able to cover a lot of ground. This means, if I can address particularly the Members of the Committee, short, snappy questions and, if I could address particularly the witnesses, short, snappy answers would be much appreciated. Perhaps I may begin, Secretary of State, by saying that by all accounts this is the job you wanted. This is an area in which you have had a lot of previous experience. Can you tell us what your major aims have been to cover during your period as Secretary of State for Defence, which we very much hope will be a long one?

  John Reid: Thank you very much. May I just place on record my condolences to the families of all those servicemen and women who have lost their life or been injured in service to their country since you were first established and I became Secretary of State and, also, to remind us of the threats and dangers which they face which have been exhibited in the last 48 hours by an action to deprive this country of the poison of masses of drugs. I am delighted that the Navy has succeeded in that. It is the latest illustration of just how the servicemen and women in our Armed Forces serve this country. That is precisely one of the reasons I wanted this job. I cannot think of any group of people for whom public service is more serious, more dangerous and more comprehensive than the men and women who serve our country. To have a contract that says "I will serve my country even until death" is a very exceptional and rare thing and I am honoured to be able to play some part with them in defence. That is why I wanted to come back and why today I am working with my colleagues: the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Robert Fry who covers operations, Desmond Bowen who is my Policy Director and, on my right, Ian Andrews is my Second PUS who covers finance and other issues. The Ministry of Defence exists to produce fighting power. It does many other things, but essentially the main product of the Ministry of Defence ought to be fighting power. My job is to make sure that that is relevant to today's threats, it is capable of meeting those threats and it is sufficient in terms of all of the elements of fighting power to so do. The first element, as you will know, Chairman, is the intellectual element, which is doctrine, training and so on. The second element of fighting power is the physical, that is equipment, tanks, ships, planes, and the third element is morale and it is probably the most important element, which means a bonding together, a feeling of trust in each other and in the leadership, a sense of history and family as well as a sense of country and a sense of belonging together as a fighting unit. It is my job to make sure that all of those elements, the intellectual, the physical and the morale element, are sufficient for today's tasks.

  Chairman: Thank you. There are a lot of issues we are going to have to cover this morning and the first one that we would like to go into is the nuclear deterrent.

  Q2  Robert Key: Secretary of State, you say in your Department's report published last week, paragraph 171, that in a recent poll undertaken by Ipsos 81% of people said that the UK needs strong Armed Forces. That is no surprise. When it comes to the nuclear deterrent and the fact that you are going to have to make decisions with the Government during the lifetime of this Parliament and given the answer yesterday in the House of Lords from Lord Drayson about nuclear weapons in which he laid out what I can only describe as a very large number of nuclear weapons still around in the world, do you think it is going to be very difficult to persuade the British people that we need to renew our nuclear deterrent?

  John Reid: Let us be absolutely clear on what the present position of the Government is and then I will turn to a replacement because the question you are asking me is very relevant but it concerns events 15 years away and up to 50 years away. I think what the public is most interested in is what the present position is and the present position has been laid out quite clearly by the Government, ie we will retain Britain's minimum nuclear deterrent. That is a pledge that we made in the last manifesto nearly six months ago and one that we will keep. You may ask how long that manifesto pledge lasts. Technically it is for the life of a Parliament, but I think all reasonable people would assume it to apply for the life of the Trident system. That is where we are, we intend, at the same time as minimising our deterrent, which we have done, and keeping our obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to maintain the nuclear deterrent. The question to which we must now turn is what we might do in 15 years' time in terms of addressing the situation when the present warheads or missile system or nuclear submarines from which they are launched come to the end of their useful life. That is precisely the discussion on which we are now embarking. There are a great many questions to be asked about the nature of the threats we might face then, about the assumptions on which we work at present and being willing to take part in multilateral negotiations at the right time. We have always maintained that as long as some other nuclear state which is a potential threat has nuclear weapons we will retain ours. That is the assumption from which we start but it has to be tested in discussions with others and it will be. Even if we decide that we want to keep the nuclear deterrent, we then have to ask whether we want to keep it in the same form, submarine launched, sea launched, or in air launched or land-based nuclear weapons; and then we have to ask ourselves about the cost, and we will work through those points. For the foreseeable future we will be maintaining the nuclear deterrent. We are now entering a discussion about whether that foreseeable future will extend beyond the 15 to the 50-year point.

  Q3  Robert Key: The Prime Minister has said that decisions are likely to have to be taken in the life of this Parliament, although we are looking a long time into the future. I understand why you have to be very discreet about the information that can be made public. Do you agree that if we are to have a proper debate, and it must be an informed debate, it will be necessary to come clean with people and to give a certain amount of information about the basis for the discussion that you have said already that you wish to have? How far can we go?

  John Reid: I have tried to do that not only in Defence Questions and defence debates in the House and I am sure that will continue but, also, last night with my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and today in front of this Committee. I am sure this is something that will continue to be discussed and debated. In a sense the decision is really quite simple and that is whether we stand by the assumptions that we have used so far, which are that we should minimise the nature of our deterrent; that we should be prepared at a given stage, if the Russians and the Americans get down to a certain level of nuclear capacity, to hand our nuclear weapon in, that throughout this process complying with the NPT and along with those assumptions also to have the other assumption, which is that as long as another potential enemy has nuclear weapons we will retain ours. That is the decision in principle. That has to be taken in practical terms against what we think will be the threats in 15, 25, 30 years' time and then we have to decide, if we want to go ahead and if we can afford it, what the nature of our deterrent would be. I would merely make one point. I have heard it said that because there are new threats from terrorism that in itself makes the nuclear deterrent redundant because, of course, it is said you cannot use the nuclear weapon against terrorists. It is equally true that you cannot use Special Forces to deter a nuclear attack. That does not mean to say that Special Forces are redundant. The truth of the matter is we face a range of threats at this moment running from individual acts of terrorism to nuclear threats. We need a range of responses that include Special Forces, individual acts of dynamic heroism if you like, right through to nuclear deterrent. Not all of those responses are responses to every threat but the range of response is necessary in order to meet the range of threats. That is the assumption we have at the moment and it is that assumption that we will test against our analysis of what might be future threats.

  Q4  Robert Key: Secretary of State, I wonder if you would agree with me that maybe for the last decade there have been discussions about battlefield nuclear weapons, a little nuclear weapon that would somehow do much less damage, but that that actually is a trap and that if you have a very small nuclear weapon it would be just as dangerous and much less effective than a big one. Is it not a good idea to start educating us, the general public, 81% of whom want to see a strong defence? How are you going to do that? How do you see this process evolving over the next two or three years, up to the time when you are going to have to take a decision during the lifetime of this Parliament?

  John Reid: You are right to say that there has been a discussion about the types and nature of nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrent. You are also right to imply that among our major colleagues in the Security Council they retain multiple systems of nuclear deterrence. The French have got two, the Russian have got three and the Americans have got a range of nuclear deterrents as well. We have reduced ours to the absolute minimum. Under this Government we have reduced our fire power by 70%; we have reduced the number of warheads to less than 200; we have reduced the number of warheads per boat to no more than 48; we have reduced the number of boats at sea and we have reduced the state of readiness and targeting and so on. We are the only country in the world which has actually got rid of a complete system of nuclear deterrents[1] because up until this Government came in we had two systems, one of them was the WE177 airborne free-fall bomb and the other one was the submarine launched Trident D5. We got rid of the former. We have reduced ours to a minimum. Unfortunately over recent years, despite the fact that we have contained the number of new states that have developed nuclear weapons and therefore we have got less than, say, John F Kennedy would have expected 30 or 40 years ago when he predicted that by the turn of the century we might have 40 states, as we have been reducing other states have been acquiring. We know that India has nuclear weapons, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, North Korea and so on. Probably more worrying is the fact that some countries have been trying to develop nuclear weapons by deceiving the world and not complying with their own obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for instance Iran. Therefore, you are right to point to the need for an informed discussion on this because if we are looking at trends over the past 10 or 20 years and looking forward 20 years, I think it would be naive to believe inevitably that there will be no further proliferation, however hard we are committed to that.

  Q5 Mr Borrow: It seems to me that this is a crucial decision which is for the medium to long term. If it has not to be made during this Parliament and by this Labour Government, it may well be a decision which comes in under a different government altogether and therefore any public debate needs to lead to a public consensus and ideally a cross-party consensus on what happens after Trident. Do you agree that that can only happen if there is the maximum amount of information in the public domain to allow the public to reach a public consensus which politicians can then use in making any decision?

  John Reid: It is not absolutely essential that the decision is taken during this Parliament but it would be highly desirable in my view. It is not absolutely essential that you have a cross-party consensus but in my view that would be desirable. It is also desirable with any such important issues that there is the maximum information and consensus across the public as well as across Parliament. The history of these matters is, despite the raging controversies that have been going on for 25, 30 or 40 years, that there has been a fairly consistent two-thirds majority who believe in the simple proposition that as long as a potential enemy has a nuclear weapon we should retain one. That is not to say that is necessarily right or that it will not change, but that has been the traditional position in terms of what we can take out of the scientific evidence from opinion polls. Let me just comment on the timescale. If you leave aside any replacement in 15 or 20 years' time—whether that replacement is an update or a renewed type of system with new submarines or whatever or whether it is a completely new system—we still have to maintain the safety and reliability of our present deterrent. That means that the various elements of the deterrent have to be maintained, that is the warhead, the missile system and the boats in simple terms. That involves a degree of expenditure which any government that succeeds this one would have to pay anyway otherwise we would be losing the key obligation of Government, which is to keep safe, reliable and secure our means of security. There will be an ongoing need for governments to maintain our present deterrent until the end of its useful life while we have the discussion and decision about how and when we replace the present system.

  Chairman: This will lead us on to a long debate over the coming years and this Committee will play a part in that. Let us move on to the issue of European defence and NATO.

  Q6  Mr Hancock: How do you expect European Security and Defence Policy to develop over the course of this Parliament? What are the implications of a strengthened ESDP for our defence relationship with the United States and the future of NATO bearing in mind that we are under considerable criticism from the United States about Europe's lack of commitment to defence expenditure? Where countries currently are spending money on defence, much of that is simply going to pay long pension commitments and not much in the way of developing new technology or indeed bringing into place the sort of troops and equipment replacements that were required.

  John Reid: This is a very big question to which snappy answers carry a risk of their own. Let me try and answer the three things that I think you raised. The first one is what is a general, philosophical and practical approach to European defence? Secondly, what about the defence configurations inside the ESDP, and thirdly, what about equipment? On the first one, the cornerstone of our defence is NATO. It is well tried and tested and it is also developing in terms of the NATO Response Force, but it needs to transform itself even more and at a greater pace. It needs to do at the NATO level what we did in 1997-98 and that is a thorough transformation. We did it through a Strategic Defence Review. A transformed NATO is the cornerstone of our defence. The European Security and Defence Policy ought to develop in partnership as a complementary means of applying power or addressing some of the threats and challenges we face in NATO. Therefore, I do not see this as a zero-sum game whereby if NATO does well the European Union is diminished or if the European Union develops its particular prowess and attributes, that NATO has diminished. I have never seen it in that way. Therefore, as President of the European Defence Ministers at present I want to see the ESDP become more coherent, more capable and more active. I mean more capable in the sense of having forces we can use. It is no good having shop window forces. It is no good having forces on paper if they are not deployable. Therefore, we want to make it more capable by identifying what it is we need in Europe and then, through the Force catalogue, identifying where we are going to get those resources and developing issues like the battle group concept. By more coherent I mean that today's security threats are much more complex than the old defence threats. Today we have migrations, internal genocides, natural disasters, disputes between states and we also have states breaking up internally: we have ethnic tensions, we have failed states and that means that we need a complex response to those complex security challenges; and that complex response runs from the political—civil response, intervening between parties, helping them to come together, rehabilitation, building security forces, building the police, building the judicial systems, extending politics, right through to the heavy combat side. Given that range of responses necessary, I think Europe is particularly well placed because of the range of forces at its disposal, provided we can be coherent in the management of them and, taking the example of Bosnia, learn the lessons of that and apply them. The final area is activity. If we are more capable, more coherent and more active—for instance, we are making a contribution to Darfur in the Sudan, to the peace process in Indonesia, in Aceh—then even out-of-area we can make a contribution to countering today's threats. I think we can be more capable, more coherent, more active and complementary to NATO. On defence weaponry, there is obviously a problem in Europe with everybody doing their own thing and too many suppliers for too little demand. Despite the fact that we in this country have been increasing our defence budget every year since the Labour Government came in, the truth is that as a percentage of our GDP it has been decreasing. At one time it was 5.4% of GDP; it is now about 2.4%. That is similar in a lot of countries as you pointed out. To have a total demand in Europe for 10,000 armoured vehicles but to have 23 different projects trying to supply them shows a mismatch at the European level. That is one of the things the European Defence Agency ought to be able to help with as is the development of common approaches to technology. That is a very long answer, it was not snappy, but I hope it addresses all the points you raised.

  Q7  Mr Hancock: I think it is a fair reflection. You say the European Defence Agency "ought" to be able to work towards giving a common policy on procurement, but ought to against the reality of whether they could actually ever deliver is a different matter. NATO did a capability study which it promised would be published, it took three years or more to create and it still has not been put in the public domain. The capability that counts is that the number of countries prepared to put soldiers' lives on the line has not increased and the responsibility for doing the actual fighting in a crisis situation is once again heavily dependent on countries like the United Kingdom. Others have not rushed to join a commitment to put their soldiers in harm's way readily. The equipment issue is a classic example where natural restraint on countries to buy a capability which would be common across NATO would invariably mean buying from the United States or possibly from the United Kingdom and nobody is going to rush to sign up for that. How do you expect Europe to be able to deliver what you are seeking here in a realistic way?

  John Reid: I think you know that I am as proud as anyone could be of the contribution the British Armed Forces have made to all we have been doing. I will let that stand. I think people know where I come from on that position. I think it is a bit unfair to suggest that we are the only ones in Europe—

  Q8  Mr Hancock: I did not say we are the only ones, I said there are the same consistent few.

  John Reid: I think that is unfair as well because there are others now who are contributing towards it from Europe, and not just the French. Whatever the rivalries in politics, whatever the differences we have at present in Europe on the constitution and on the budget, actually on defence I think we probably do have a closer relationship with the French than we have had for a long while and I want to see that develop. I think they have fine fighting forces and I think they contribute a great deal. The Dutch Minister Henk Kamp and I discuss these things regularly. I think the Dutch, and not just the Marines, have been prepared to contribute and are prepared to contribute in many ways and indeed are joining with us in one of the Marine-based battle groups in two or three years' time. Italy is playing a far bigger role than they did a few years ago. I was in Kosovo recently and it is an Italian General who is in charge there. At the moment in Afghanistan the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is being taken over by an Italian General. It is an Italian General who is the Head of the Military Committee at present, Mosca Moschini. In terms of the European dimension, Italy is playing a great role. The Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Norway, where the outgoing minister was one of the major contributors to European defence, are also playing a great role. I do not think it is right to diminish the contribution they are making. However, I will concede this to you. In terms of their financial contribution, not every country is paying what is required nowadays. In terms of their forces, a lot of these countries who have come in from Eastern Europe in particular have very static forces. As it happens, they were on the other side of the Iron Curtain facing us, but they were like our forces, static, based on the plains of northern Germany, waiting for the war to come to them as we were to us. They need to reform and transform those forces into more mobile, flexible, high readiness forces that can take part in what we could call expeditionary warfare. That limits the amount they can contribute at the moment. I think the intention to transform is there.

  Q9  Mr Hancock: I want to ask about the changing situation in the Balkans generally. With the future of Kosovo as one of the big questions, whether Serbia and Montenegro will break up and the ramifications of what that will do for stability in the whole area and whether it is possible to hold Bosnia together and what sort of commitment that will have on our Armed Forces bearing in mind commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, where do you see that going and what do you feel Europe's contribution has to be to that and possibly even the worsening situation in the Black Sea generally, in the Caucuses and Europe's role there?

  John Reid: That is another big question. Europe's role in Bosnia is very significant indeed because, of course, in Bosnia it is now the European Force that is in there. I recently discussed the situation with our leading officer there, General David Leakey, and the position is this. We have about 1,000 soldiers in EUFOR. We are there for deterrence and reassurance. I think in the immediate future, that is the course of next year, we will be staying at or about that level. I think deterrence and reassurance have worked. There is still a need there, but I think in the course of next year we should take stock of whether or not we ought to be handing over a little more, including the fight against organised crime, to the Bosnians themselves. Why do I think that the situation is getting a little more optimistic in Bosnia? It is because two of the very, very sensitive areas between the entities are shifting towards resolution. The first of these is a Bosnian Army. If you had said to me 10 or 12 years ago that there would not only be a Bosnian Army at the Bosnian level, admittedly made up of regiments from the different entities, Serbs and Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats and Bosniac themselves, but agreement that from the beginning of next year that will be the Bosnian Army rather than the entity armies and that it would be pushed above all by a Bosnian Serb Defence Minister by the name of Radovanovic, who has either just arrived on a visit here or just about to , you and I would have found all that difficult to believe, but it is true. So there has been a big advance in the Army and some advance in policing and I pay tribute to Paddy Ashdown for the job that he has done there because there is now a move in policing to move it up to the state and down to the local level. That will not be resolved until next year, but these are moves in the right direction in Bosnia. On Kosovo, we have now had the standards report and we go on to the status talks. It will be difficult. It is very sensitive. It is potentially very controversial between the Albanian Kosovars on the one hand and the Serbs in the north and also Belgrade, but I do think that with goodwill all round it is possible to settle this politically. There is a final thing to say about the Balkans. Croatia is now entering discussions about Europe, I hope Serbia at some stage in the not too distant future will get there and Bosnia will become more stable. Kosovo is still sensitive but it is getting there. I think the solution to all of these problems lies in two things. One is a feeling of security, which comes ultimately with entry into the European Union, and the other one is an opportunity for personal and social advance which is enhanced by entry into the European Union. The break-up of the state there and its circumstances caused terrible problems. I think that the greater unity of the European Union offers an opportunity to give the stability and reduce the paranoia and give the opportunity for prosperity, both of which are essential elements at mitigating the worst excesses of nationalism. I think in the short, the medium and the longer term we do have a route map there, we are making progress on it and I trust that things continue in that direction.

  Q10  Mr Swayne: Secretary of State, it will cost us two and a half times more to equip a formation with the Future Rapid Defence System than it will for a corresponding formation to be equipped with the USFCS system and we will still be less well equipped. Is this the premium that we have to pay for Europeanisation?

  John Reid: No. With great respect, Mr Swayne, I listen to the Chiefs of Staff and my military advisers on these matters. They do not take the same views as you. No final decision has been made as to where we are going to place these contracts or indeed to the final shape and configuration of the armoured vehicles or the technology with which we equip individual soldiers, but the decision will not be made on the basis of a political decision irrespective of the wishes of the military themselves, far less against the wishes of the military. Indeed the people who are looking at these things just now—I think General Mike Jackson was recently in Sweden looking at these things—are taking a deep and close interest in it and they will let me know their views. Anybody who thinks people like General Jackson will take second, far less third, best on these things because of my whim do not know Mike Jackson or Mike Walker or the Chief of the Naval Staff or the Chief of Air Staff.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, we are covering quite a lot of ground. I know you have to leave by 12.30 so we will try to finish by 12.25. We are now moving on to Iraq, another huge subject.

  Q11  Mr Breed: Secretary of State, could you share with us the MoD's planning assumptions in respect of the timetable for run-down of UK forces in Iraq?

  John Reid: Yes. I can tell you in precise terms what our objectives are and what our assumptions are. They are not based on an immutible timetable; they are based on the achievement of certain conditions. Basically we are in Iraq now, whatever the controversy was surrounding the original intervention, under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 and acting alongside the United Nations and the multinational forces who are there, with three objectives. First of all, it is to assist the Iraqis in the building of their own democratic institutions and democratic control of their own country. Secondly, it is to build up the security forces necessary to protect that democracy and, thirdly, to build an economic and civil infrastructure and civil society. The second one of those, which is really what you are asking me about, although the other two are relevant, the Iraqis are making big advances in terms of building their democratic institutions and processes. They have just had a bigger turnout in a referendum—despite threats from terrorists—than we had in this country for our general election. The infrastructure is proceeding despite the terrorists, although very slowly. Water supplies, electricity and oil are under constant terror attacks in order to disrupt economic and social advance. Our objective is to help the Iraqis build security forces to the extent that they can begin to participate in counter-terrorist and other operations. Then they can begin to take the lead in such operations. And then they can act autonomously in such operations. How are we doing on that? At the moment we have over 200,000 security forces, from the Army through the Ministry of Interior to the police, who are trained and capable of taking part in operations. Secondly, they are increasingly taking part in operations although not in the lead on operations. Thirdly, they are not yet ready to act autonomously. They need better officer training, command and control, logistics back-up, intelligence support and so on. However, it is possible that in the course of next year they could begin to take the lead in different parts of Iraq at different times. In other words, the planning assumption would be that the handover to the Iraqis themselves will not be a one-off event, it will be a process that will occur over time, starting in different areas at different times. That is a process of handover to the Iraqis which could occur in the course of next year in some places. As it does that then our handover will take place in stages as well. In other words, we will begin to participate alongside the Iraqis, then we will draw back to barracks or to central areas as a local or theatre reserve and then eventually we will withdraw. That is a process that I said in July of this year I thought could start next year and I see no reason to change that view. There are nine Iraqi Brigades running operations with United States mentors at the moment. In our area, in the Multi-National Division South East, I have visited the 10th Division Iraqi Army just outside of Basra. There are many, many more Iraqi security forces trained and capable than there were even 18 months ago. But they are not yet able to act without some support.

  Q12  Mr Breed: You seemed to indicate that the timetable will not be influenced by the situation as a whole in Iraq but by particular parts. Is it conceivable that there could be a UK withdrawal or at least a run-down in the southern part of Iraq in advance of any US withdrawal?

  John Reid: Perhaps I have given the wrong impression. There will be a number of factors which will influence the decision as to the timing of handover in different areas. One of them will be the level of a terrorist threat locally as well as nationally and in that sense the terrorist activity that is taking place is not having the effect of pushing us out of Iraq quicker than would otherwise be the case. Its only effect is to keep us there longer than would otherwise be the case. That is one of the terrible, tragic ironies of this position, that one of the elements that will help us to move from Iraq early is a diminution of acts of terrorism; but there are other elements, one is local government and one is the national government, the progress, the democracy and so on. So there will be a national element. You are right in the sense that there will be local features which will be involved in this as well and at the moment there are different configurations with different strengths and different force postures in different parts of Iraq. In some areas, particularly the heavy Sunni populated areas, the level of terrorist attacks is much higher than in others. I do not think people understand that the vast majority of attacks in Iraq are occurring in four provinces; over 80% of terrorist attacks are in four provinces. Fourteen provinces are relatively peaceful compared to the rest. So in those areas things could move a little quicker than they would in other areas of Iraq, but we would want to do all of this with complete transparency and in consultation with the Iraqi Government themselves who have established a committee under the Prime Minister to look at the criteria for transition and with our allies, not least our major ally who have suffered such losses there and shown such fortitude and bravery, the United States Armed Forces under General Casey. But, of course, there are other colleagues there, Australians, the Japanese and we will discuss these matters with them as well.

  Q13  Mr Breed: Whilst it might be conceivable that UK forces may be able, because the process has gone slightly better in our sector, to be brought home, it is equally as likely that they may be redeployed to other parts of Iraq rather than be withdrawn, is it not?

  John Reid: No, I do not think anybody is envisaging such redeployment out of our traditional area. I am certainly not considering such an option at present if that is what you are asking me. I would point out to you that even within MND South East there are different levels of threat and different levels of activity and different levels of progress. We have Maysan and Dhi Qar and I was discussing events there recently with Antonio Martino last Monday, the Italian Minister, where again the Italians are playing a tremendous role in police reform. In our own area there are different levels of activity and there could be a degree of flexibility inside our own area, but I am not envisaging that we will be going in great numbers to other parts of Iraq. In the past we have gone through specific operations and I regard it as an important element of what we are doing there to maintain the solidarity of the coalition. We are a sovereign state, we can take our own decisions, as we always can do when we enter obligations, but we are a sovereign nation with honour and so when we enter obligations with colleagues and allies then that international solidarity is very important to a nation like the United Kingdom. We do not go back on our word and, therefore, we will discuss all these matters with our international allies as well as have our opinions shaped by the opinions of the Iraqis themselves who have established a committee to look at the criteria and then decide which areas they think are ready for the handover. We want them to have confidence they can lead on these matters.

  Q14  Robert Key: Secretary of State, public opinion in this country and around the world is conditioned by the news that people hear on a daily basis coming out of Iraq. In this country no BBC news bulletin would be complete without the daily drip of bad news from Iraq. Representing a lot of military families as I do, I know the impact that has on military families and indeed military personnel in this country. I wonder if you could explain whether it is just that news editors decide only to report bad news or is it that they cannot report the good news that you and I know that our forces and the civilian contractors and the voluntary organisations are doing in Iraq because they are not allowed into those areas. Do you put any barriers in the way of news or do you, on the other hand, try and facilitate access to good news stories, or is it just that there is a sort of death wish about the way the news is reported coming out of Iraq?

  John Reid: You are tempting me in a very interesting direction.

  Q15  Robert Key: Good!

  John Reid: This is not an unimportant issue because, as I mentioned at the beginning and you know well, this question of morale is an essential element of fighting power. When we face a world in which we are not fighting on equal terms with dictators or terrorists, because they are accountable to no one, they are answerable to no one, they have transparency for no one, they are not open to this type of questioning, it is very easy, if we do not try to get a balanced picture, to show only the deficiencies or downsides of one side in this. The casual observer might come to the conclusion that sometimes our media falls into that trap. Certainly soldiers remark to me when I am in theatre about the contrast between the sort of reception they very often get there and appreciation they get for what they are doing on operations and the sort of apparent "condemnation" for all of this in the press back home. All I try to do is to point out constantly the fact that in Afghanistan and in Iraq those who are elected by the people to speak on behalf of the people are hugely supportive of our presence in their countries because we are helping them to have the freedoms that we value so greatly in this country. I wish that a little more attention was paid to that than to those who would try to undermine our morale by presenting an unbalanced picture. I do not think it is useful to go down the road of who has got what agenda on what, but I did notice that in one weekend newspaper there was a front page story about some leaked anonymous report saying the Iraqis did not want us there, whereas an exclusive interview with the President of Iraq opening with the words "The President of Iraq today appealed to the United Kingdom's forces to stay in Iraq and help the Iraqi people" was relegated to page 29. I do not make these editorial decisions. You must make your own decisions about why they are being made in that fashion and whether there is a balanced picture. I am all in favour of a balanced picture. I do not want anybody to be complacent. Things are tough in Iraq, there is no question about that. The terrorists are going to huge lengths of terrorism by the destruction of human life, of Children and women, including ordinary Muslims going to the mosque, not American or British and multi-national politicians or soldiers but children trying to take sweets are being massacred, innocents as they were last night in Basra. The terrorists are trying to stop the majority of people in Iraq building their own future democratically, taking care of their own society in a civilised fashion, getting a better job and getting electricity. We are helping the people of Iraq to do that and every one of the democratically elected spokesmen says that whenever they get the opportunity. But when they say it they do not hit the headlines. When the terrorists say something they do hit the headlines. You must make your own judgment about why people choose which headline.

  Q16  Robert Key: I am sure that, like me, you believe it is a strength of our democracy that we have an independent, free press media, of course we do and I do not wish to see propaganda coming out of Iraq either. I want to press you on the point I made about what facilities you give to the national and international press and media in Iraq. Are you able to assist them, to take them to see projects or is everybody just confined to the green zone and not allowed to see what is going on as physically it is unsafe for them to do so?

  John Reid: No. We constantly take journalists out to Iraq and into other fields of operation. We try to be as open as possible in who they can speak to given the security implications. I have no doubt some people think this is just a brainwashing or propaganda exercise. Having listened to Mr Simon Jenkins who has been on such visits, if it is intending to do that then it is singularly failing. But that is not the intention. The intention is to try and place before people the reality on the ground, warts and all, and the reality on the ground is difficult, it is dangerous for our troops, it is dangerous for people to go there, including journalists and, occasionally, ministers. But despite all of the efforts of the terrorists progress is being made on democracy. We have gone from 8.5 million people taking part in elections on the constitution to 10.5 million people in the referendum and now the elections. Progress is being made on security. We now have over 200,000 trained and capable Iraqi security forces. They now participate in 80% of the operations. Progress is being made on the social and civil side of society. We now have something like 230 hospitals, we have several thousand schools operating, we have an immunization programme going, but that is not represented in the press. You will have to address your questions, Mr Key, to the editors who choose not to illustrate that side of the equation.

  Q17  Mr Swayne: Secretary of State, in your recent statement you agreed that Iraq is now meeting engagement with terrorism and that as political progress is made so that battle will intensify, so if we are going to lick the terrorists we have to lick them here in Iraq. Can you just reassure us that we really have got the political will to do that? It is going to take more troops rather than fewer troops. If, for example, we need those troops to undertake the disarmament of militias, have we got the will to do it?

  John Reid: First of all, let me take your general question about the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged. I am under no illusions about that. There is a struggle going on, at the heart of which is an ideological and international one between 21st Century values and 7th Century values. There are people who would seek to impose upon us and others a dictatorship of a nature that is counter to all our democratic freedoms and all our modern instincts. I will not go into the details of it, you will know them. You will know that in Afghanistan, for instance, it was not only not encouraged to educate a young girl, it was a criminal offence so to do. In terms of whether there is an ideological struggle going on, I am in no doubt that that is there and unfortunately it manifests itself on one side by the use of means of terrorism unconstrained by conscience or convention, on a scale that we have never seen before and it will require a great deal of resolution and endurance over a long period of time, using every conceivable weapon in our armoury—military and non-military, diplomatic, financial and political, which is why aid, trade and the G8 process is a necessary concomitant of the preparedness to use military power. I think that will be necessary over a long period of time. It is a long, wide and deep struggle. It will be fought in many theatres, sometimes with attacks upon us in our home towns, in London, Madrid, Egypt, Tanzania, Africa, New York, Bali and sometimes in theatres like Iraq. There is an international dimension to what is going on in Iraq. If the terrorists win and they stop a Muslim Arab nation developing democracy, they will have a huge strategic victory. If, on the other hand, the terrorists do not win and an Arab Muslim country like Iraq develops its own democracy, it will be a huge blow to those extremists who argue that democracy is incompatible with Islam or with the status of being Arab. Having said all that, we would be wrong not to recognise that there are specific internal issues in Iraq that have to be addressed as well. Not all terrorism is imported. There is an insurgency inside Iraq which consists of elements of the former Fascist regime that led Iraq under Saddam Hussein and elements of Sunnis who feel dispossessed, alienated—they have lost power and jobs—and we have to reach out to them. There is an unmitigated and unmitigating struggle against international terrorism to meet force with force when necessary, but there is also the need for us to look at the underlying political problems, whether in the Middle East, Kashmir or elsewhere, the poverty, the exploitation, the perceived injustice and a need to recognise that within each area like Iraq itself there are not just the imported terrorists like Zaqawi from Jordan, Al Quaeda and so on, and are the former regime elements with whom we cannot talk. But there are many ordinary Sunnis whom we should try to engage in the political process. I think that effort is a necessary concomitant of the preparedness to use force. Again, that is a complicated answer because it is a complex situation. You cannot just say this is a global war on terror any more than you can say it is just a little, local difficulty. It is not. There is both an Iraqi dimension and an international dimension to this.

  Q18  Linda Gilroy: I want to ask a question about recruitment and retention in the context of Iraq. Iraq, and the rather more simple version of Iraq that you have just been discussing with us in terms of how it is reported, tends to be the prism through which people see our armed services. Are you concerned that the controversial nature of the deployment, the sort of press coverage, the abuse, the scandals, the fatalities is having an impact on recruitment and retention? If so, what are we able to do about that?

  John Reid: I genuinely do not think they are the main issue. There is a deeper and longer problem in recruiting, particularly to the infantry or to what we call the pinch points of certain skills. That is the changed employment market.

  Q19  Chairman: We will come on to the broad issue of recruitment and retention a little later on. I wonder if you could concentrate on the question in relation to Iraq.

  John Reid: I do not think it is the main issue.

1   Note by witness: France has dismantled her land-based ballistic missiles. Back

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